Everyone’s talking today about crime writer RJ Ellory who has admitted to posting flattering reviews of his own books on Amazon under pseudonyms and criticising rival authors (h/t to @sheilacrowley ). Frankly, I’m flabbergasted (albeit a little delighted to be able to use the word ‘flabbergasted’ in relation to publishing’). While this isn’t the first time an author has manipulated Amazon’s review system, the part I find so bizarre about the RJ Ellory fake review scandal is that he is far from an unknown, struggling author desperate for praise and recognition, fearful his publisher will drop him at any moment. He was Orion’s book in the goody bag at their party a couple of years ago for goodness sake – you can’t get a clearer expression of publisher pride than that. He has won awards, has been selected for the Richard & Judy’s book club and his books have sold more than a million copies – he’s hardly struggling to make it, driven to desperate means to gain attention as all else has failed. At least that would be a little easier to understand. Even harder to understand are his posts themselves – consider this one about A Quiet Belief in Angels:
“Whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul.”
I find this quite disturbing. What else might it do? It sounds like there could be some dangerous side effects involved – don’t worry if the book explodes on page 324, if you experience dizzy spells or become strangely susceptible to Amazon reviews because it will also touch your soul so it will all be worth it. Could there be a bolder claim? At least if you’re going to post fake reviews about how wonderful your work is then at least make them a) appealing and b) believable. A lot has been written over the last month or so about book criticism, how Twitter is too nice and no one can post negative reviews anymore. But we shouldn’t forget that the onus should not only be on the critics to be reasonable and not insulting, and authors either to be thick-skinned or not to set up google alerts about their books, but also on readers to make smart decisions about which reviews to pay attention to. There are some friends whose recommendations we’ll greedily pounce upon and others we’ll politely shelve. Shouldn’t we operate in the same way online too and treat reviews and recommendations with more than a pinch of salt?